In Singapore, policymakers face a predicament over PMDs

Surekha A. Yadav
Surekha A. Yadav

NOVEMBER 10 — Last week, the Singapore government prohibited the use of PMDs (Personal Mobility devices) — basically small electric scooters — on footpaths. This sparked a bout of political activity from an unusual demographic: teenagers and the youth.

Hundreds of, generally, young people delivered petitions, attended consultancy sessions with their local MPs last week or posted long heartfelt comments on social media as they tried to get the PMDs on footpath ban overturned.

Why the passion for PMDs? Because they are the vehicle of choice for Singapore’s growing number of food delivery riders.

There are estimated to be over 7,000 riders using PMDs to make deliveries. The deliveries are largely, but not exclusively, in the service of the popular food delivery apps — Grab Food and Deliveroo.

The majority of these riders are young, from their teens to early 30s. The PMDs allow them to cover a much larger delivery area faster which means they can earn more from the services they work for.

The riders are typically paid per delivery. he ban will have an immediate impact on these riders' wallets.

In a way, PMDs are victims of their own success. They became near ubiquitous before people really had a chance to get used to them.

The fact that they are near silent means there is actually a higher chance of collisions and inexperienced riders and a public unfamiliar with the devices meant accidents were inevitable.

In 2018, around 300 people sustained injuries severe enough from PMDs that they required treatment by a doctor/hospital.

The decorations, sound systems added to their PMDs by the youths and the tendency of riders to congregate in little gangs didn’t do much to endear them to the broader populace either.

PMDs are clearly useful which is why they have proved so popular. While Singapore has a strong public transport — connectivity particularly if you want to move from the centre to the suburbs and vice versa, intra and inter suburb connectivity can be improved by PMDs.

They are perfect for journeys of up to a few kilometres — from your home to your friend's place, from your home to the local mall etc.

Given they are emission-free, disruptive and come in a diverse range of shapes and sizes, there has to be a role for them (or some of them) in future transport plans.

One suggestion would be to increase the number of cycle paths — increasing the areas where they can go.

This will take some time but turning cycle paths into a means of last mile connectivity for a range of devices will really help connect out suburbs.

Overall though this will take some time and require serious investment.

The other approach might be to assess and designate some existing footpaths and pavements as suitable for PMDs and not others.

Mandatory visibility jackets and even a points-based licensing system might also make riders more mindful and less of a hazard.

Restrictions can also favour smaller safer PMDs, ones with lower speeds and smaller handlebars which are less likely to cause harm.

Ultimately a pragmatic approach and not a blanket ban might be the order of the day.

I read somewhere that parts of Western Singapore would be designated a test bed for autonomous vehicles; perhaps another part of the country could be a testing ground for PMDs.

I volunteer my neighbourhood because truly safe PMDs would really be a boon to local communities and ensure you get your Korean Fried Chicken, faster.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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